Yesterday, one of the most important bands in my musical education decided to call it a day. underOath had been a band since 1997; in their most recent and most successful incarnation since 2003. It was this underOath that I grew up with, that seemed to grow with me as my taste in heavier music developed.
When vocalist Spencer Chamberlain joined the band in late 2003, they already had three albums under their belts. These had all been released before I had registered any interest in music any heavier than blink-182, and so completely passed me by.
It was Chamberlain’s first album, 2004’s They’re Only Chasing Safety, that drew me in. The possibility of having screamed vocals in songs was relatively novel to me as a 14-year-old, and TOCS was a reasonably light way to integrate myself into a new genre. Looking back, it is probably the most important, and most accomplished, album to have come out of that era of screamo (I hate the word as much as the next guy, but it just describes what TOCS is); an incredibly polished record that defined a genre and gave the world ‘A Boy Brushed Red… Living in Black and White’ and ‘It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door’. ‘Young and Aspiring’ was one of the first songs we ever attempted to cover as a band, and the scream/sing dynamic underpinned the majority of bands I listened to for the next few years. Without underOath and similar bands, I would never have turned onto anything heavier. Their Christian links lead me straight to Norma Jean, a band I rarely listen to nowadays but who remain one of my favourite ‘heavy’ bands of all time.
12th and Hide on a Sunday, feeling like we’re gold/
And we’re nothing short of invincible.
It would have been all too easy to stick with the sound they had helped invent – it certainly retained popularity and was extremely lucrative for years afterwards, and is experiencing a comeback of sorts in the sing/scream dynamic employed by what seems like thousands of identikit metalcore bands today. But they didn’t.
Define the Great Line, released in 2006, is still one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. Markedly heavier than TOCS, underOath managed to retain the melodies of their previous work whilst adding an altogether heavier dimension. Parts of DTGL are absolutely crushing; ‘In Regards to Myself’, ‘Returning Empty Handed’ and ‘Everyone Looks So Good From Here’ amongst the heaviest, most innovative the band had ever produced, whilst ‘Writing on the Walls’ displayed that they had not lost the pop sensibilities that had underlined their previous release. The musicianship had never been so impressive across the board, and this was the first release on which Aaron Gillespie displayed his true drumming prowess – some of the drumwork on DTGL is astounding. The presence of two six-minute plus epics showed that underOath were not afraid to stretch their creative wings either, channeling Isis in their expansive experimentation.
Perhaps the biggest step up from TOCS was Chamberlain’s performance. Where before his scream could be accused of being slightly one-dimensional, on Define the Great Line Chamberlain became a man possessed. His scream was joined with an array of barks, growls and piercing shrieks, the result of extensive vocal training, and he had never sounded so powerful. His clean vocals were also improved, and, combined with the voice of Gillespie, some of the vocal melodies on the album are striking both in their complexity and effect (see the end of ‘Moving for the Sake of Motion’). Add to this that the album sees the pair addressing the difficulties of practising their faith and the end result is a record remarkable both for its beauty and its power. All of which may sound like a bit of a love-in, but that’s the point. I can’t tell you how much I still love this album, six years after its release. It’s mainly because this record exists that I am sitting here writing a blog about this band now.
Oh my God, I hate the me that I’ve become/
this needy, useless, forgetting one/
Truthfully I can’t be the me that I’ve washed up to be.
In truth – at least as far as I’m concerned – they never matched Define the Great Line. Tracks on follow-up Lost in the Sound of Seperation were almost as good – the opening trio of songs in particular – but the more experimental cuts marked the bands’ first footsteps into industrial territory, an area explored more extensively on 2010’s Disambiguation, and never really a genre I could find much time for. The latest album may be the heaviest, but without Gillespie’s presence – the drummer having left the band prior to the album’s recording – it is also their most obtuse, and there is just something about it I can’t quite get into.
It doesn’t really come as any surprise that underOath have now decided to call it a day. Losing Gillespie had impacted on the bands’ commerciality and, however unfortunate the fact, it is always going to be difficult for a band to plough a route on musical respect alone.
As a friend of mine commented, ten years on from now he will be stood somewhere watching an underOath reunion show. I will be there with him. Whether it had been coming or not, it is still sad to see the official end of a band that has made such an impact on what I choose to listen to; that have been responsible themselves for some of the best heavy albums ever released.